Revival on the Island

Eileen Yang ‘20

The Peddie Arts Department arranged a trip for students to see the Broadway musical, Once on This Island on Saturday, March 24. Once on This Island made its debut in the early 1990’s and even won an Olivier award in 1995. Besides the modern version being a truly spectacular performance to experience, it also has a diverse cast for the setting. Most notably, the musical casts Alex Newell (best known as “Unique” on Glee) as Asaka, the mother goddess; Lea Salonga as Erzulie, the love goddess; and Tamyra Gray as Papa Ge, the typically male death god.

The musical takes inspiration from My Love, My Love, or the Peasant Girl by Rosa Guy, as well as Romeo and Juliet and Anderson’s Little Mermaid. It opens on an island in the Antilles archipelago, where a tropical storm rages and a child cries. To comfort her, the village storytellers begin to tell the child the story of Ti Moune. The villagers all become a part of the
story, each taking on the personas and costumes of the island’s four main gods and other characters in the story. They cast the little girl in the role of Ti Moune, an orphan girl spared by the gods to later save the life of Daniel Beauxhomme, a grande homme (French for “upper class”). The two fall in love, despite coming from two separate worlds that are “never supposed to meet” because of the class barriers of their societies. After the rest of Ti Moune and Daniel’s tale unfolds, the story returns to present day, when the frightened little girl is able to retell the story herself, bringing the musical full circle.

Students on the trip enjoyed the show, from the story itself to the unique set design of the Circle in the Square Theatre. Christina Liang ’20 noted that the “set up allowed for a more interactive performance. The props, special effects, and sounds made the already amazing performance even more riveting.”

Not only was this musical beautifully crafted with unique elements, it was also thought-provoking. It includes commentary on both racism and classism, which keep Daniel and Ti Moune apart; even the island itself segregates into the black peasants who lived in poverty and French grande hommes who live opulently in a hotel. Besides godly tampering and the idea of fate, the most important theme in Once on This Island is how love can unite people regardless of who they are.